Taking off from Muslim Conference and leading from the front in National Conference, Sopore’s Ghulam Rasool Kar eventually landed in Congress. Shuttling between power and politics, Kar lived a long, eventful life (1921-2015) and was witness to Kashmir’s post-partition history. In last interview of his life, Kar shares interesting details of his activism, and his version of the history with Bilal Handoo
Town Hall area of restive Sopore seems highly beefed up security zone. A few guarding cops ensure civilian movement only after a passage through a stringent security check-up. A hushed alley ahead opens into the residence of seasoned Congressman who is witness to Kashmir’s chequered history.
At 94, Ghulam Rasool Kar is still attending a rush of Congress supporters and workers in his high-walled and well-guarded residence. As a political and social worker, Kar is one of pioneers of freedom movement against Dogra Maharaja.
In 1938, Kar rose to become Secretary National Conference at the age of 17. Eight years later, he became NC President from Sopore.
When in 1951, Sheikh Abdullah set up the constituent assembly, Kar was nominated its member. By 1960, he was appointed as the founding chairman of Co-operative Mercantile Bank. Years that followed saw him joining Congress and holding many important portfolios, including Power, Transport, Food & Supplies, Water, PWD and Labour.
During tumultuous years of nineties, Kar emerged as the ‘brave’ face in state Congress who would visit villages across valley and campaign against militancy. In 1990s, he would park his gypsy near Shalteng, board the Baramulla buses and reach against militancy as his escort would follow the bus till Sangrama. He faced music for this by surviving many life attempts. In 1995 when Chrar-e-Sharief went up in flames, Kar was perhaps one of the few unionists who visited the town, was attacked with stones, injuring him as cameras were rolling. This didn’t deter him though. He remained a ‘loyal’ worker of Congress – the party he later renounced before rejoining it in 2010 with this announcement: “Pakistan is the heartbeat of every Kashmiri!”
Apart from politics, Kar published Sopore Times, Dehkan and Daily Khidmat. He, in fact, was the sole trustee of the Khidmat Trust.
I was born on June 18, 1921 in Sopore, three months after my father, Khwaja Habibulah Kar died. One of my brothers was mentally retarded. My other brother and two sisters were already married. So, my mother nursed me. She had a great desire to educate me. But I failed to pass my matriculation exam. My English was very weak. I shortly parted ways with studies. But I was very much into politics while growing up. At 12, I had joined Muslim Conference.
Start with Muslim Conference
One Eid in early thirties, Muslim Conference leader Molvi Mohammad Yaseen came to meet me at my residence. He was one among the four prominent Muslim Conference leaders from Sopore, including Sofi Mohammad Akbar, Khawaja Abdul Rahim Dar and Khawaja Mohammad Rajab Bakshi.
“Look,” he told me, “Just make an announcement that Molvi Mohammad Yaseen will address public rally after Eid prayers at Jamia Masjid Sopore.”
I did it. After giving a public address, Molvi Yaseen gave me 14 annas. Soon I became very close to Muslim Conference, where I later met my political mentor, Sofi Mohammad Akbar.
I was among those who masterminded and converted Muslim Conference into National Conference to bestow a secular outlook to the new party under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Some resisted the move, but in the face of Sheikh Abdullah’s tall stature, the resistance soon withered away. People would treat Sheikh’s words – as if, he was some prophet!
It was because of this influence and mindset that when a tax of Rs 22,000 was imposed on Sopore for agitation, only 14 persons sided with Muslim Conference, while rest went with Sheikh. Mind you, it happened in place like Sopore where Muslim Conference was considered as a movement than a party.
‘Quit Kashmir’ Movement
Sheikh addressed number of ‘Quit Kashmir’ rallies in mid-forties where he raised slogans against Hari Singh. I attended one such rally at Hazratbal with Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq. After raising anti-Dogra slogans there, Sadiq told Sheikh: “Now when you have raised slogans against Hari Singh, are you ready for prison life?”
Sheikh in his usual dauntless demeanour replied: “Don’t worry. Nobody is going to arrest us…”
Sadiq interjected: “But how do you know that?”
Sheikh, smilingly, said: “I was assured by Maharaja Hari Singh’s barber – that none of us would be arrested.”
Sadiq soon met Bakshi and told him: “Just pack up. We are leaving valley before Hari Singh’s men will come to arrest us.”
Bakshi snapped him saying: “But why?”
“Why?” Sadiq literally mocked Bakshi’s query. “You are pretending, as if, you don’t know anything about Sheikh’s political plans.”
“No, I swear. I don’t have any idea what you are talking about,” Bakshi, getting edgy, replied.
“Now don’t tell me you don’t know how Sheikh is behaving like one man authority. To address your ignorance, let me still tell you, Sheikh was tricked by Maharaja’s men—on whose instructions, he started movement in state. It was a well-hatched ploy. Now, Maharaja is mulling to detain all of us. Before his men could lay their hands on us, let us leave,” Sadiq told Bakshi.
Sadiq was right in his concern. Sheikh had started the movement without involving and consulting NC Working Group and volunteers.
Bakshi briskly booked a bus for fleeing valley. He instructed Sadiq to wait at Srinagar’s Toto Ground. But somehow, Sheikh knew that both Sadiq and Bakshi are fleeing. He too got ready to flee, but was arrested by Maharaja’s forces at Dumail on Srinagar-Jammu Highway. Sadiq and Bakshi were too arrested.
Later I realised that Sheikh was caught in the trap laid by Dogra Prime Minister, Ramchander Kak, who needed a pretext to arrest Sheikh and his coterie. After allowing it to snowball, Kak wanted to crush ‘Quit Kashmir’ Movement. He, in fact, had already called JK troops back from Europe, where they were engaged in Second World War. Along with other NC workers I too was arrested.
After walking out of prison, I heard about MK Gandhi’s Valley visit. I along with others welcomed him at Sangrama. It was 1946. Later Gandhi went to Mujahid Manzil to address public rallies. I shouldered him while descending staircase. He patted me. But let me tell you, he had come with a purpose. He wanted Hari Singh to accede with India.
When Qabailis attacked Baramulla, I along with Sofi Mohammad Akbar, Lasse Wandur, Sanaullah Beg, Khazir Bhat visited Baramulla on a tonga. We reached Uri and then returned to Baramulla. Raiders had already climbed over a hill at Baramulla, from where they started firing at us.
Hari Singh and Menon
Meanwhile New Delhi sent Menon with document of accession to Jammu. Hari Singh was already camping there. Menon had to return to New Delhi over some issue in the document. He promised to come back after sorting out identified issue. Hari Singh, meanwhile, told his official: “In case Menon won’t come on time, then shoot me dead!”
But Menon did come on time and Hari Singh signed the document without any delay. And thus, already air-borne Indian army arrived in valley to combat the Pakistani raiders. Later Sheikh also signed the document of accession. Since he was a one man government in himself, none could question him.
Guiding Indian Army
I mustered courage to escort the Army to push back raiders. The Indian Army had established a picket at Kralsangri Baramulla. The unit belonged to Sikh regiment under the command of Colonel Roy who was unfortunately killed while resisting raiders. This made the unit to retreat. I was guiding another contingent at Sopore.
The moment raiders crossed Sangrama, a phone call from Srinagar rang up Sofi Mohammad Akbar: “Leave Sopore immediately!” I accompanied him along with Ghulam Rasool Sofi and reached Srinagar via Ganderbal after two days. Sherwani had also come to Srinagar riding on a horse he took from a landlord of Sumbal.
Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the then in charge of Home Affairs, gave me and Sherwani a ticket and ordered us: “Go back and see what those Qabailis are upto?”
Sherwani managed a motorbike and gave me a bicycle with an instruction: “Wait for me at Ganderbal.” The moment he appeared at Ganderbal on his motorbike, he straightaway took Zazan route to reach Sumbal. He clearly avoided me. I started following him on bicycle.
Sherwani’s bike, however, broke down and he called a local ironsmith on his way. Meanwhile I reached on the spot. To avoid me, he told the ironsmith: “Come with me!” They left on motorbike and I again started peddling bicycle to follow him.
Some half an hour later, I reached Sumbal. I soon spotted the ironsmith, who broke the news to me: “Retreat. The man you are following has been arrested by raiders!” Sherwani had been captured.
Meanwhile, Sherwani was taken to Baramulla where he was set free by raiders. But General Secretary Muslim Conference, Ghulam-ud-Din Wani saw Sherwani being released. He went to Qabaili leader and told him: “How could you leave this man? Do you know, he was the one, who organised processions against Jinnah’s Kashmir visit?”
This revelation raged the Qaibali leader. And thus Sherwani was rearrested. On October 29, 1947, he was brutally killed. It is said raiders pumped 14 bullets into his body.
After his death, some glorified Sherwani, saying he derailed raiders’ march in valley, which is wrong. He was killed only for his anti-Jinnah protest.
I returned to Srinagar to inform Headquarters headed by Sham Lal Saraf about Sherwani’s death.
When Indian Army recaptured Baramulla, Sofi Mohammad Akbar was appointed district administrator. Meanwhile, a contingent from Pakistan side of Kashmir led by Prof Abdul Aziz Mir captured Trehgam, Kupwara.
At Trehgam, a newly formed militia surrendered before raiders, who had managed to capture Kupwara and Handwara.
Indian Army commanded by Colonel Harbaksh Singh, who later became Lieutenant General of Indian Army, established a picket at Wataven Handwara. I was with this picket.
The army decided to ambush raiders at Handwara, which forced them to return from Wadpora. Shortly, Kupwara was recaptured. As the town lit up in celebrations, a bomb was hurled on a mob. In this incident, I was badly injured.
After three months of stiff resistance, we captured Trehgam. Besides, I was the first NC leader who reached with Indian Army to capture Teetwal, tehsil headquarter of district Muzaffarabad.
I was nominated as a member of food and peace committee, which was formed immediately after Pakistani tribal raided valley. Begam Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was the chairperson of Committee and I was made Vice Chairman of food and peace committee for northern region of Kashmir bordering with Pakistan.
It is no secret that Sheikh was influenced more by Nehru than Jinnah. When he stepped out of Jail, he addressed a public rally at Hazuri Bagh, where he said: “Now when Pakistan and Hindustan have became two nations, we will decide with whom we will go…” With that, he left for Delhi, leaving behind an impression: “Sheikh is favouring New Delhi over Islamabad.”
Sheikh disliked Jinnah. Keeping the huge response created by Jinnah’s earlier visit to valley in view, Sheikh knew that Islamabad is no good for his personnel growth. That’s why he recited those sacred verses to glorify his friendship with Nehru: “Man tu shudam, Tu man shudi…”
The Sheikh Abdullah, I knew, was a very selfish person. In Oct 1951, while deliberating on policy statement, he told the constituent assembly: “We have three options: India, Pakistan or Independence. But I would suggest you to choose India.” By 1953, he grew disillusioned and threatened over constitutional fiddling in state. But before lion would have roared, his friend, Nehru caged him with the support of Karan Singh, Qadir Qanderbali, DP Dhar and Bakshi.
Fiddling with Article 370
Changes inflicted on Article 370 were brought by constituent assembly in connivance with Karan Singh, DP Dhar, Sadiq, Mir Qasim and others. Prime Minister was reduced to chief minister and Sadr Riyasat into Governor, besides other constitutional changes. All these changes were started by local Kashmiri leadership. We as agents of Delhi did everything, of course due to political pressure. Kashmiris were always chosen for collaborations by successive Delhi leadership.
But I wasn’t aware about the repercussions of such moves. Yes, people like DP Dhar, Sadiq and Mir Qasim were quite aware what they were doing. The three of them later founded Congress in Kashmir.
Conspiracy behind Congress
Establishing Congress in JK was an open conspiracy against National Conference. In efforts to strengthen and popularize Congress among people, rallies and public addresses were rigorously conducted during the period between 1960 and 1975. It was the time when there was a strong undercurrent of plebiscite from Sheikh Abdullah. Pro-India leaders became target in that period.
In 1966, I survived life attempt in a rally along with then Chief Minister, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq at Kariappa Park, Baramulla.
Role during 1965 War
I was the first among the political leaders, to reach Haji Peer, when it was recaptured by the Indian Army in 1965 from Pakistan.
I walked to Haji Pir with Indian Army and made it sure that none of the locals were harmed. People were very scared. Locals from Rajouri and Poonch had crossed over to Pakistan side of Kashmir. I ensured their safe passage back to valley.
I visited Germany, USSR Lenin guard, Bukhara, Smarkand and Tashkant as a member of the delegation of the Indian National Congress. I also visited Saudi Arabia six times as a Member of Parliament. I attended Common Wealth Parliament Conference as a delegate. I along with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed visited Bangladesh to have a friendly meeting with Sheikh Mujeeb-ur Rehman, the then Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
Before Sheikh Abdullah stepped out of jail in sixties, I was called by Governor. He examined me. I failed to read his comments. He wanted to install me as a chief minister of state. I couldn’t visualise his vision. This is my first regret. Second political mistake I committed was to turn down my party, Congress’s offer to contest election as a chief minister candidate.
Role during Militancy
I was holding the command of state Congress when militancy broke out in state. I was a member of advisory committee for restoration of peace in trouble-torn valley constituted by then Governor of J&K, Girish Chander Saxena in 1992.
I would visit villages across valley to discourage militancy. As a result, I became instant target. I survived a life attempt at Char-i-Sharief where militants tried to stab me but fortunately the bid was foiled by my security staff. On other time, I had a narrow escape when a gunman killed my body guard at Sopore, but I escaped unhurt.
In 1992, my son-in-law, Dr Mustafa Aslam was abducted and kept hostage for months together but was later released. Another son-in-law Dr Kango was abducted twice and tortured but was later released. My brother-in-law, Habib-ullah Mircha, a senior revenue officer was abducted, tortured and finally killed for his political ideology.
The threats to my life had become the order of the day. About half a dozen attempts were made on my life, including a bomb blast in close proximity to my bedroom. But even then, I was the only leader who stayed in valley during militancy. My family though was forced to shift to Delhi temporarily.
But all this didn’t deter me to organize peace march from Uri to Qazigund in 1996. The efforts paid off during the Eleventh Lok Sabha in which Congress won 4 out 6 seats. I won from Baramulla.
I was first married to Ayesha Kar and then to Habla Kar. I have four children – Ajaz Kar, Irshad Kar, Dr Khalida Aslam and Masrat Nissar.
My Friend Geelani
In 2010, when I rejoined Congress, I made it clear that Kashmiris’ heart beat for Pakistan. Kashmiris don’t want freedom. They want Pakistan. I knew it from the very beginning of my political career. But then, politicians don’t make everything public.
I often tell my friend, Syed Ali Geelani: “You should retire from politics now.” But then he replies: “How could I do it – even if, I wish! Will people forgive me for that?”
As I said, politicians don’t make everything public.